Over time…

The following is a draft I wrote in November of 2009. I never posted it because I was planning on writing more.. and then I just never got around to it. This is as far as I got:

I am soon coming up on my six month mark of being in Japan. I’ve done a lot of things since I’ve been here: traveled across half the country, been in a major earthquake, been in a major typhoon, moved apartments, had a bike/car accident, ended my engagement, met someone else, broke up with them, got harassed by them, went to Disneyland, went to a hot spring, rode the bullet train, stayed in a capsule hotel, ate raw chicken (as sashimi), got my first gray hair… it’s been a whirlwind experience. Sometimes I get lost on trains and can’t get back on track–no pun intended–for at least another 2 hours. That can be extremely frustrating when you can’t read or speak the language. Sometimes I buy a pastry at the bakery thinking it would make a nice dessert and it turns out to be savory. Sometimes I buy a shirt that’s a size L and it turns out to be like a size S. These instances usually make me smirk a little because that’s the experience of a gaijin living in Japan. These are the things that will make me strut though life not letting the petty stuff bother me.

I just got my ticket yesterday to go back home to California and I’m looking forward to going home.

I’ve been in London for 10 months now. My time here is almost up (I leave in September). I felt so proud of myself for living in Japan and going through everything that I did. I’m still proud of it, but I have to say I haven’t exactly been “strutting” through life since then. Coming to England gave me a different type of culture shock I wasn’t expecting. I’ve already written about this in an earlier entry. It’s been about 6 months since my last entry and I’ve only come to find that I am becoming more and more set in my ways. The good news is that I mostly realize it. Stress has been building up with my coursework and when I do catch a break, I let loose completely. But now I am trying to find that happy balance between working and playing. I’m beginning to take my time with things. London, as with all major metropoli, is a fast-paced city. I’ve experienced this before. I am, as I was hoping I would before, toughening up. But I don’t necessarily like what I’ve toughened up into. So I’m stopping. Just because you live in a fast-paced city doesn’t mean you have to live a fast-paced life.

I’m currently working on my dissertation and, after that’s finished, I’m moving back to the United States. It’s time I came home. So, this blog probably won’t see another entry from me for a while. But when it does, we’ll see how I’ve changed again.

Sick and alone in Japan.

It’s not often that I have an entire day to myself to do whatever I want without anyone bugging me or anyone to bug. It seems this kind of day only happens when you have to stay home sick. And guess what: I’m sick. The funny thing is that even though I’ve been out of school for over two years now, I still feel like I’m supposed to be doing some homework I’d rather avoid.

Being sick in in Japan is not the easiest thing to be. When you can’t read or speak the language, it makes it difficult to find the right medication for yourself at the drug store. I have to rely on pictures on the box, if I’m even lucky enough to get pictures. Then, I have to figure out how many pills to take, however many times a day. Finding the lone numbers on the box with a single kanji character next to them is hard enough, but then I have to type in a possible English translation, turn it into Japanese kanji using my trusty Google Language Tools and see if I get a match. It certainly is a process.

Or I give up and turn to the internet for home remedies. The problem here is that sometimes these home remedies include things I could only find back home, like cod liver oil or lavender oil or some other oil or herbal by-product. Perhaps these things are indeed available in Japan, but that would require me to know Japanese. Here you might say, “Why doesn’t she just get a Japanese person to help her out?” but my dear friend, let me ask you, how do you ask a Japanese person about cod liver oil? That’s not a common thing they would have learned in their conversational English lessons. Sure, I could just explain my symptoms and hope they know enough health-related English terminology to lead me to the right medical help. But that’s something I like to wait on till it’s absolutely necessary. The only Japanese people I know who speak English and can help me with these problems are already busy enough with their own lives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like a helpless kid who needs a mommy in this country.

For the most part, I really have been lucky, not getting sick too often. And when I do, it’s usually just a cold and I know how to take care of that at home with plenty of rest, vitamin C, and liquids. A good box of lotion-infused Kleenex always helps too. No official medication required. But what’s keeping me home from work today is… well, I still don’t know what it is, even though I went to the doctor… but I’d had a sore throat for four days (a long time) and on the fourth day, white spots appeared on my tonsils. That’s when I decided I better see a doctor. Now this is always a hassle at school because they can’t just cancel my classes and everyone else’s schedules get changed around because of me. That always makes me feel bad, but everyone keeps a smile on their face and no one complains, so I guess it’s not the end of the world. Anyway, my poor manager had to take me to the hospital on her day off to translate for me and the doctor prescribed me some antibiotic and ..other stuff.. to take for five days. This is what I came home with:

Japanese medicine for a sore throat.


All for a sore throat! So the gold pills are the antibiotic. The powder stuff is for my fever and my nose, so I was told. The blue pills are for nasal discharge, and the pink pills are to protect my stomach from all the other pills. The bottle is a concentrated Listerine-smelling mouthwash I have to mix with water and gargle but not swallow. And the Lifesaver-looking things are throat lozenges I can only take a maximum 5 of per day. Everything else is to be taken three times a day after meals. Yeesh. They never even said exactly what it was I have. Oh well.

I started this medication yesterday and already I feel a bit better. That’s good because I have to be back at work tomorrow. I swear, going to work sick is bad but it’s even worse when you’re a teacher. You have to teach a class for 50 minutes like nothing’s wrong and all eyes are on you. Blowing your nose in public in Japan is rude too and I’m sure my students wouldn’t want to be that close to me (those rooms are small) even if they did understand I was sick. If I’m lucky, I get a 5-10 minute break between classes to try to freshen myself up and get all my materials for the next class. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day too. Saturdays always are.

Anyway, I guess that’s what I had to write about today. Next, I think I’ll try to write something more creative. With all this time to myself, forcing myself to relax and get some rest, I’ve started reading a lot more. I finally finished a book I was supposed to read for a class back in college but never did. I held onto it though, because I had heard from everyone else that it was a good book. And it was. (Nervous Conditions, if you’re curious). It made me feel good to finish a book. I’m notorious for never finishing a book I start, but since I’ve been in Japan for nearly nine months now, I’ve started and finished four books. FOUR BOOKS. In nine months. That’s a record for me. I’m usually doing well if I finish one book in two years. I’ve since started another book and this is my biggest book to date. It’s a whopping 816 pages long. But I’m excited about it. I used to not fathom how people could read a book that long. But it’s a personal goal I’ve set for myself and it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing a lot more than I could by sitting on my computer all day or watching movies. Reading also inspires me to think, imagine, and create. It’s strange in a way, because these are all the things I should have been doing and feeling when I was getting my Bachelor’s in English Literature over two years ago. It’s like my subconscious finally caught up.

Okay, new personal goal: Read, think, imagine, and create. Even if you’re not sick at home.

Settled In.

I am soon coming up on my six month mark of being in Japan. I’ve done a lot of things since I’ve been here: traveled across half the country, been in a major earthquake, been in a major typhoon, moved apartments, had a bike/car accident, ended my engagement, met someone else, broke up with them, got harassed by them, went to Tokyo Disneyland, went to a hot spring, rode the bullet train, stayed in a capsule hotel, ate raw chicken (as sashimi), got my first gray hair… it’s been a whirlwind experience. Sometimes I get lost on trains and can’t get back on track–no pun intended–for at least another 2 hours. That can be extremely frustrating when you can’t read or speak the language. Sometimes I buy a pastry at the bakery thinking it would make a nice dessert and it turns out to be savory. Sometimes I buy a shirt that’s a size L and it turns out to fit like a size S. These instances usually make me smirk a little because that’s the experience of a gaijin living in Japan. These are the things that will make me strut though life not letting the petty stuff bother me.

I just got my ticket yesterday to go back home to California and I’m looking forward to going home. I don’t necessarily feel homesick, per se, but I do welcome the opportunity to see my family (and what a great family it is), and maybe eat some real Mexican food. I also welcome the break from all things unfamiliar. Like driving on the other side of the road, or sleeping on an actual mattress as opposed to a futon. Baking something in an oven will be amazing because, quite frankly, who doesn’t like to bake cookies around the holidays? Most homes (apartments) in Japan don’t even have an oven. It will also be nice to fall into a pile of warm clothes that have just come out of the dryer. I don’t think anyone in Japan has a dryer. (I’m sure someone does, but that’s not the point). The thing is, home is home. It will always be that. I feel lucky as hell that I have a home too… I know some don’t. So I like to keep myself feeling lucky and grateful. I know a lot of people who love the town they grew up in and they’d never want to leave. Those people might say I’m ungrateful for wanting to leave my hometown. But I say leaving my hometown makes me even more grateful.

I’ve lived in three different cities around the world since leaving my hometown and now that I’m in a foreign country, I feel more at home than ever. I’m certainly not Japanese and in no way do I fit in around here. I was never really a Japan-o-phile but I always had an interest in the exotic and the world outside America, and Japan falls into those categories. It’s been a struggle to adjust to life here and there are a lot of things I wouldn’t be able to do without relying on someone who can speak Japanese and English. Strangely, though, I feel more independent and at home–with myself– than ever before. I do not feel that I have reached the pinnacle of self-discovery or self-realization by any means, but I do feel like I’m heading in the right direction. My future plans include living in one or two more foreign countries, possibly for an extended period of time. Depends on the country.

There is so much you can learn about yourself, your hometown, your home country just by learning about other people and their towns and their countries. My passion for communication and bridging the gaps between people and cultures has only been cemented by my experience living and working in Japan. As a teacher, I get to have some of the most amazing 50-minute conversations with my students. These stimulating talks are the mere tip of the cultural exchange iceberg. It’s times like these that make me want to stay in Japan another year. But I also feel the pull toward other countries. Like I said, I’m no Japan-o-phile. I find value in all kinds of cultures. The more experiences I can have, the better. There is so much I want to do, you have no idea. The best part about it all, though, is that I feel like there’s no rush. I certainly don’t feel as though I’m wasting any time, either. I’m going at exactly the pace I should be going.

I can only hope that others get to experience or have experienced what I’m experiencing now. I’m not talking about living and working in another country, specifically, but more the metaphysical and transcendental experience of realizing one’s own and the world’s potential. For me, it’s an overall satisfying experience. I wish I could share it with you, but this blog just won’t do it justice. I’ll still give it a shot, though.

Things about Japan that Surprise me

I guess that I expected a completely foreign world when I got to Japan. And, granted, I was right to expect things I’d never seen before. I can honestly say that my world has been turned upside down, coming here. For instance, they drive on the other side of the road here, and all the cars are SMALL. (Total opposite of America). There are no preservatives in the food here and they eat most everything raw. Even eggs. Also, everyone here smokes cigarettes, and it’s illegal to smoke outside. They prefer you smoke inside or in designated smoking areas so as to make sure you don’t leave any cigarette butts littered in the street. I wonder if the Japanese have ever heard of second-hand smoke. But what surprises me more than the differences I’ve found here are the similarities. For example..

Mayonnaise – I can’t even begin to tell you how much the Japanese love mayonnaise. It’s like an addiction. They put it on everything. Salads, pork, french fries, noodles… the list goes on.

Convenience Stores – 7-11, Circle K, Family Mart, Lawson, Sunkus, etc… These handy little marts are like the Starbucks of America. There’s one on EVERY corner. They are certainly convenient. You even pay your utilities bills at the convenience store.

Shopping – While I admit I knew the Japanese liked to shop, I don’t think I understood just how much they like to shop. Some of the big department stores in Nagoya or Sakae are like the 5th Avenue designer stores you would expect in New York. Or Monte Carlo. They have uniformed concierges and everything.

I was wandering through my neighborhood today (which I was told was all housing) when I came across a Seiyu. This giant building slightly resembled a tiny shopping mall and I figured it was public since it had a McDonald’s on the first floor. So I curiously ventured in to find what must have been the biggest grocery store I’ve ever seen, besides the Navy Commissary. I actually uttered the word “woah” under my breath. Plus, there were two more floors. On the second floor, I found a small photo studio with costume kimonos for the whole family to wear, bedding, furniture, household items, cookware, and fake plants (the real plants were on the first floor). I bought some wooden spoons to use in my “kitchen.” Then (dare I?) I went to the third floor where I found clothes, more bedding and household items, bicycles for sale, electronics, appliances, and toys. And for a Sunday in Japan where the economy is on the rocks, the place was hoppin’. Families, couples, little old ladies inspecting dishware like it was a fine red wine. You’d think this place was the local pub in an Irish village, but on a grander scale. As I walked around not only perusing the aisles but the customers as well, I felt for a small moment as if it was 1984 and I was back in America. The words “materialistic” and “yuppie” came to mind. For another small moment, I wondered if I should immediately leave, go home, and take a shower to rid myself of the commercialism.. but naaaaah.. I needed clothes, bedding, and groceries. So I stayed and enjoyed every minute of it. :)

I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely understand this strange land and its people, but I’m not sure I want to. I like the mystical, ‘time warp’ feeling I get while I’m here. For now, anyway….

Ah, Japan…

I’ve been here for little more than three weeks. I’m finally beginning to feel like I live here. I must admit, I didn’t really think about the fact that as soon as I got here, I’d basically be illiterate. Trying to get used to the kanji, hirigana, and katakana is a lot more difficult than I was expecting. I figured if I just memorized each katakana and hirigana symbol (and their sounds) then I’d be able to easily decode most Japanese words.

Yeah. No.

I spent an hour searching for just one symbol on the internet and in my books when I was trying to read the directions on a packet of “drano”-like powder I bought for my flooding bathroom. I gave up and just dumped the powder in the drain. It hasn’t worked.

While this can get very frustrating at times, I must commend the Japanese for being such fans of kawaii anime that they have cartoon directions on a large majority of their products. Also, everyone here is very polite and understanding of the fact that you probably will never master Japanese. So, they do their best to help you out whenever they see you have that pained/panicked look on your face while holding a plastic package of some kind. I’ve managed to get by in Japan just knowing the words for “please,” “thank you,” and “yes.” Nobody ever directly says “no” in Japan, so knowing the hand signals for “no” (crossing your arms like an ‘x’) and giving a simple smile works too. Maybe when I get enough money, I’ll buy one of those electronic devices that lets you draw the kanji and then it tells you what that symbol is. But in the meantime, I’m stuck with my books and the internet. Oh well.